Chestorton Quotes (6): On the Trinity

Just finished chapter 8 of Orthodoxy, “The Romance of Orthodoxy,” which is Chesterton’s critique of several of the prevailing tenets of modernism.  Specifically, he argues that it is not liberal but rather illiberal to disbelieve in the possibility of miracles, that it is false that all religions are the same, and that the hope of immortality does not make life passive and empty but rather active and exciting.  There is a lot of interesting stuff in this chapter, such as his discussion of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism, or his reflection on Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane, or the chapter’s conclusion which declares that men have fought against God’s world with such zeal that they have ruined this world.  But what struck me most were some reflections he made on the doctrine of the Trinity, which I reproduce here:

There is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Muhammad. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea ‘it is not well for man to be alone.’ The social instinct asserted itself everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled by the Western idea of monks. So even asceticism became brotherly; and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent. If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian. For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) – to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and, the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.

One Comment

  1. […] at all about the subject matter. “The complex God of the Athanasian Creed,” in the words of G.K. Chesterton, is an “enigma for the intellect.” Nonetheless, in its very strangeness it has the ring […]

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